What does it look like for the church to welcome the refugee? According to Matthew Soerens, churches are equipped to step in to meet a refugees biggest need.
“Churches love to do one-time things and we like to try to facilitate that where we can. But what refugees really need, they need some stuff, they need we need financial support of course, but the biggest need that refugees have is friendship.”
While churches often gravitate toward one-time fundraisers and once a year sermon focus, they can have the biggest influence by providing opportunities to build relationships. Friendships are built over time and they require our commitment and undivided attention.
“You can’t do friendship one Saturday year with 400 people. It’s a one on one, or maybe it even works better with a team from a local church who will commit to saying, ‘Hey, for the first 6 months to 1 year that this family is going to be here we’re going to come alongside them.”
We need to be willing to understand where they’re coming from so we can be sensitive to their culture, and help them to understand our culture. When church members step in to provide friendship they can help a refugee overcome and understand some of the things we take for granted. Matthew shares a helpful examples,
“The biggest need is in sitting through awkward language barriers and being a friendly face who will help them understand the bus system or a banking system.”
“Helping people understand how our society works and being a listening voice. People have gone through unfortunately some incredible trauma. In most cases, that’s part of the definition of being a refugee is having fled in fear of persecution. Having someone to listen to that story, in a patient way, can actually be really healing.”
We have an opportunity to be a listening ear for a voice that needs to be heard. By building friendships, we can reach our persecuted brothers and sisters with the love of Christ. Even after refugees are settled in the community, culture and are self sufficient there is still a need for friendship.
“People always need friendship and we’ve seen that happen, time after time all over the country, sometimes relationships go right on into eternity. Whether they were already strong believers, and then those who weren’t yet believers, who, through the interaction with the team from a church, ask those questions of, ‘So who is Jesus? What does that mean?’
By building loving others and friendships, the church has the opportunity to share the love of Christ. Matthew points each of us to 1 Peter 3:15,
“When people have been loved and welcomed by the local church and shown the love of Christ in tangible ways, they’re very likely to ask those questions and that allows us to, as 1 Peter says, to ‘be ready to give an answer for the hope that’s within us.’”
Matthew Soerens serves as the US Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, which is the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals. In that role, he helps evangelical churches to understand the realities of refugees and immigration and to respond in ways guided by biblical values. He is the co-author of and .
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